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Mystics celebrate captain’s milestone in winning style

Mystics celebrate captain’s milestone in winning style

The MG Mystics repelled a resurgent challenge before subduing a gritty Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel 65-55 in the opening match of Round 10, in Auckland on Saturday.

The Mystics ticked all the boxes in style with a comprehensive and dominant opening quarter to leave an ominous outlook for the Steel. But the visitors, in what has been a challenging season, showed their fighting qualities to bring a real element of excitement to the following three quarters.

Keeping the Mystics honest in the second quarter, the Steel won the third and came out with a hiss and roar to start the fourth before the home side slipped into top gear to eventually ease to a comfortable win.

It was a creditable effort from the southerners but the Mystics showed their class, holding their composure in a spirited final quarter to retain their spot at the top of the table. With plenty of firepower in all areas of the court, the Mystics had the polish to finish off the job, the Steel left ruing a horror first quarter.

In a notable milestone, Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick lined up for her 150th national league match with Katie Te Ao stepping into centre in the absence of Tayla Earle, who was unavailable for this match.

The visitors presented with their familiar line-up of recent weeks, a fit-again Saviour Tui getting the start at goal shoot and Renee Savai’inaea being retained at wing attack.

Responding to their skipper’s special milestone, the Mystics were quick and slick from the outset while racing out to an early 6-1 lead.

Fluid through court, with their midcourt finding the shooters on a consistently regular basis, the home side were just as effective at the defence end. Fitzpatrick, Phoenix Karaka and Michaela Sokolich-Beatson provided an almost brick-like resistance.

To compound the constant pressure, the Steel struggled to convert the opportunities that came their way with the Mystics completing a dominant opening stanza with a high-scoring 19-9 lead.

The Steel made a much better fist of the second spell, with wing defence Sam Winders and goal keep Kate Burley snapping up intercept opportunities while the scoring margins improved a little under the hoop.

The visitors still faced an uphill slog getting the ball circle-bound which was quite the reverse for the home side. Peta Toeava continued her intuitive connection with shooter Grace Nweke, who returned a perfect 27 from 27 for the first half with fine support from Filda Vui.

Losing the quarter by just two goals was a vast improvement for the Steel but the Mystics held all the cards when leading 33-21 at the main break.

The Steel’s fortunes changed dramatically in an impressive third quarter showing. With more traditional wing attack Ivari Christie taking over from Savai’inaea, the visitors found their spark on attack through greater ball movement and placement.

Shooter Tui also stepped up, finding her range more consistently under the Steel hoop, a run of five straight goals giving the visitors the best of starts with a 9-3 advantage. As a result, the Steel enjoyed their most product quarter of the match out-scoring the Mystics 18-14.

Going off the boil and losing ball to soft turnovers, the Mystics still held a handy advantage but were not in a totally comfortable position when leading 47-39 at the last turn.